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What I Learned From Almost Dying On The Side Of The Road

So, there’s a bit of a story behind this one. But before I get into that, I’ll just say that I spent much of Tuesday nauseous, almost puking, and definitely dehydrated.

Ok, let’s get into it. So there’s this website I’m addicted to, and it’s called Fitocracy.

If you haven’t heard of this website, it’s basically a social network that turns fitness into a game. You log the exercises you do, and you get points for them. Get enough and you level up. There are also achievements to get and quests to complete.

Seriously, I’m addicted to this thing, man.

Really, I am. And honestly, that’s not a bad thing. I wish everyone was – it gives me incredible motivation to work out. In fact, I plan on writing a full post on how awesome Fitocracy is in the near future. Until then, all I can say is that you should join it. Also, follow me and join the College Info Geeks group so we can get some epic challenges going.

So. Onto how this relates to me almost dying.

My friend Arthur linked me to a certain girl’s Fitocracy profile a couple weeks ago. Anything special about it? Oh, no, not really… except she’s a level 41 and has almost 650,000 points, which means she’s on the front page of the leaderboard. Every day she logs an insane workout totaling anywhere from 3,000 to 9,000 points. Most people’s workouts rarely exceed 1,500, and they’re definitely not doing them every day.

Oh, and one more thing… she goes to my school.

So now I have to get my shit together and pick up the pace, because there’s an ISU student not just beating me, but annihilating me in points. Suffice it to say that I was, at that point, much more motivated to make my own workouts more epic.

An Epic Quest Begins

Part of Fitocracy’s addicting allure are Quests – specific challenges that you’re supposed to complete. Completing a quest will net you some extra points on top of what you’d get from simply logging the exercise.

When you start out on the site, the quests are pretty easy and include things like:

  • Perform the Pendlay row
  • Do 10 activities in a week
  • Hit 135 on Squat, Deadlift, and Bench
  • Run a mile in under 10 minutes

Child’s play.

However, once you get past those, things get a little harder. I’m now at the point where I’m facing quests like:

  • Do a Widowmaker (20-rep squat) at 1x your bodyweight
  • Run a mile in under 5 minutes (I barely did it in under 6)
  • Do an Olympic distance triathlon (1 mile swim, 6.2 mile run, 24.8 mile bike)

These aren’t quests that I’m going to be able to just go out and do in a day. They’re going to take some training. However, there was one quest on my list I thought was pretty doable. It was called The Zone, and all I had to do to complete it was cycle 50 km (31 miles) in one session.

“Well, that doesn’t sound too hard! This is on like Diddy Kong.” – me

The aforementioned girl told me she usually runs/bikes at 6am in morning, so I decided to beat the heat and wake up around that time Tuesday morning for my ride instead of sleeping in like I usually do.

And so, on Tuesday morning I awoke, downed a banana, filled up my water bottle and hopped on my trusty Trek. I planned to ride out about 15 miles and then turn around and come back. Easy, right?

I got out on the road and the weather was perfect. The sun was just coming up, and the temperature was sitting nicely around 60 with a slight breeze. Freakin’ awesome.

I rode through Ames and got on a southern highway that conveniently has a bike path running alongside it. Once I hit the next town, I turned onto the High Trestle Trail, which is a pretty new trail I’d been wanting to ride for a while.

After a while, I hit my 15-mile marker… and saw a sign.

Madrid – 5 miles

My 15-mile marker was in the middle of the trail – why not add on 10 extra miles (total there and back) to see a town? At least I’d be able to say I’d made it somewhere before heading back.

So I rode to Madrid. It’s a pretty cool town, and it’s even got some “cyclist bars” that recently opened to accommodate all the cyclists riding the trail.

There. Mission accomplished. But wait – another sign…

Bridge – 2.5 miles

Now, if this was just an ordinary bridge, I probably wouldn’t have been interested. But this is the High Trestle Bridge. I’d heard about it an seen pictures of friends who made it there. It’s one of the coolest bridges in Iowa, sporting a design that looks like a bunch of picture frames rotating around it.

So… tack another 5 miles onto the journey. But I made it!

Yes, that is indeed a NerdFitness shirt I’m wearing.

At this point, I’ve gone 22.5 miles and am facing the same distance on the way back. But first… I need to cross that bridge. Who wouldn’t?

I never thought Iowa could be all that beautiful, but the giant valley under this bridge is damn pretty. States like Nebraska and Kansas be ‘mirin Iowa’s aesthetics.

And, as fate would have it, another sign popped up at the end of the bridge…

Woodward – 2.5 miles

From laborious internet research and stellar detective skills, I knew Woodward to be the very end of the High Trestle Trail. If I simply rode a measly 2.5 more miles, I’d be able to say I made it all the way to the end of the trail. I’d also be able to say,

“Morning bros, just did a 50 mile bike ride, no big deal”

So on to Woodward I rode. I made it there easily enough, even scored a Foursquare check-in so I could add the town to my travel map (which you can see on my Impossible List).

Luckily, Woodward has a small rest stop with a bathroom and a water fountain. So I took a few minutes to stretch and fill my bottle back up, and then started the 25-mile trip back to Ames.

This is Where Things Started to Suck

About ten miles into the ride back, I started to get tired. Really tired. 

However, I had recently read someone saying on /fit/:

“Cardio isn’t like lifting, bro. When you can’t do another rep, it’s because your body just can’t lift that weight again. It’s too heavy. Cardio isn’t like that. When you feel like stopping, that’s your brain talking. Your body can keep going for far longer than you think it can.”

So, though I was tired, I pressed on. The combination of that statement and the fact that I had no other way of getting home kept me going.

It got harder and harder as I went on, though. My butt started to hurt so much that I had to pedal standing for a while. Eventually, holding myself up became a challenge.

I started alternating between pedaling slowly and getting off and walking.

Eventually I got to the town where the trail started. Epic.

Only 8 miles back to Ames – back to my apartment, my food, and my couch.

So I pressed on and started riding the highway north to Ames.

There’s a term marathoners like to use called “the wall” – it’s a point in the race where a runner thinks they can literally go no further. In the movie Run Fatboy Run, Dennis finally hits the wall late into the race and is able to break through by thinking about all his past failures. He doesn’t want to fail in front of everyone yet again, so he breaks through.

I didn’t hit the wall. I hit dehydration and utter glucose depletion. With about 5 miles to go until I would reach Ames, I was at my breaking point. Pulling up all my resolve and pumping myself up, I’d be able to pedal at normal speed for about 10 seconds before having to walk again.

When I’d get off to walk, my legs would start shaking and threaten to collapse under me.

So very luckily for me, at that moment a guy in a van stopped for me.

Since I was walking my bike, he’d assumed I had a flat tire. That wasn’t quite the case, but I was still incredibly grateful that he gave me a ride.

I went home only to experience severe dehydration – to the point that all food tasted disgusting and dry because my body had pretty much stopped producing saliva. I also was really light-headed and my limbs felt like they weighed 300 pounds each.

So I drank a liter of water and passed out for 3 hours.


I rode an impressive (for me) 46 miles before getting picked up. Here’s my route.

Did I complete my Fitocracy quest? Hell yes I did. And now I’ve unlocked a quest to ride 62 miles. Shit.

Was this a stupid idea? Yep.

Lessons Learned

I learned a few things during and after this experience that I’d like to share:

  • Youthful zeal is not always a good thing. It’s cool to be motivated and try epic shit, but there’s a point where you can push yourself too far and do stupid things. I hit that point.
  • Prepare adequately. I set out on my ride with nothing but a banana in my stomach and a 24 oz water bottle that I only refilled once. For 30 miles, this would have been fine – but I decided mid-ride to up the mileage to 50. I should have made sure I had a debit card to buy some food on the way, as well as a bigger water bottle, before deciding that.
  • Don’t make the final stretch of an epic ride be a bare highway. Had I decided to loop around Ames for 50 miles instead of going down a long highway, I could have easily quite mid-way and cut home.
  • Lastly… Know Your Limits. If you’re going to test them, make sure you have a way out. Have support or an easy way to bail. Should you find that you can’t do what you set out to do, you don’t want to be stuck.

So, learn from my mistakes. Don’t try to ride 50 miles on just a banana. Yeah, it’s easier than walking across America, but it’s still not a good idea.

However, you should still push yourself. Get on Fitocracy. Do some quests. Get motivated. Peace.